Conference championship games Sunday average 53.7 million

The National Football League is on a ratings roll heading into the Super Bowl, as Sunday’s pair of conference championship games averaged 53.7 million viewers — a 30-year high.

Fox’s primetime NFC Championship between the New York Giants and San Francisco 49ers — won 20-17 by New York in overtime — drew a whopping 57.6 million viewers, according to Nielsen, peaking with 69 million in the 10:30 p.m. ET half-hour.

It stands as the No. 3-rated game on record for the semifinal round of the NFL playoffs, behind only the NFC Championship in 1982 (68.7 million for Dallas-San Francisco) and 2010 (57.9 million for Minnesota-New Orleans).

And the first game of the day, in which the New England Patriots beat the Baltimore Ravens 23-20 to capture the AFC Championship, averaged 48.7 million viewers on CBS, making it the most-watched afternoon AFC title game in 30 years.

Average viewership on Sunday of 53.7 million is the most for the conference championships since 1982, when the Dallas-San Francisco game was preceded by San Diego-Cincinnati (51.6 million).

The conference championship contests are television’s two most-watched programs since last year’s Super Bowl.

NBC certainly has to be pleased with the Giants-Patriots matchup in Super Bowl XLVI, which it will broadcast on Feb. 5.

Because the NFC Championship ran so late, Fox’s special episode of “American Idol” didn’t hit the air until 10:57 p.m. ET in much of the country; it still averaged about 20 million viewers. Net announced on Monday that it would repeat it tonight in place of a “Glee” repeat.

In other ratings news over the weekend, Lifetime drew a sizable 5.8 million viewers for its premiere of “Drew Peterson: Untouchable” on Saturday. Telepic, starring Rob Lowe and Kaley Cuoco, is basic cable’s most-watched original movie in two years.

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